In the pitch black darkness, something touches my foot and I gasp …
Ah! I knew it!”
The guests running out of the room are all out of breath, but for some reason, they are all smiling.
This summer marks the fifth year of Tokyo Dome City’s popular “Onryozashiki” haunted house. The man behind the project is Hirofumi Gomi, 65, who has produced more than 100 haunted houses. In 1992, he produced his first haunted house, “Maro Akaji’s Panorama Haunted House” at the then Korakuen Yuenchi (Korakuen Amusement Park), and since then he has produced haunted houses all over Japan. Over the past 30 years, his haunted houses have been visited by as many as 6 million people. Gomi, who was originally involved in theater, analyzes the difference between a haunted house and play as follows.
The fun of a haunted house is that you go back and forth between being scared and thinking, ‘I’m not scared because it’s a fake anyway.’ It is fundamentally different from theater or movies, where you forget who you are in reality and enjoy the immersive experience.
The unique feature of his haunted house is that the guests are required to actively move, such as carrying a baby doll to the exit or putting white powder on a woman’s face. We also asked him about his specialties in creating fear.
“When you try to complete a mission in a haunted house, you can’t keep your distance from the scary things that you want to keep your distance from. This stress leads to enjoyment.”
By being given a role to play and feeling that there is no escape, the sense of fear increases while at the same time enjoying the experience. The “space” itself is also a trick.
When we intentionally place chests of drawers and shelves away from the walls, this creates a dark space between the walls, which makes the guests imagine that something might come out of there.
Gomi has been involved with haunted houses for 30 years. What changes have occurred in the haunted house industry as a whole?
“There have been two major changes. First, since about 2011, there has been an increase in the number of haunted houses that are not just one of the attractions at amusement parks, but are operated as stand-alone haunted houses,” he says.
However, there was a big problem with haunted houses as a business.
“It costs a lot of money,” he said. A permanent haunted house costs 300 to 400 million yen when you include everything else. We tried to find a way to make it more affordable, and from around 2015, we began to increase the number of haunted houses that combine elements of solving mysteries while keeping the site area small.
Finally, the man who has been pursuing “scares” for 30 years was asked which haunted house frightened him the most.
The haunted house at Toei Uzumasa Film Village in Kyoto. It is set in the Edo period (1603-1867), and is probably 1.2 times larger than a normal haunted house. By doing so, there are places where it is dark and you cannot see anything. That was very scary. That depth of darkness is hard to create.
New ways of presenting haunted houses, such as VR haunted houses, have been created, but the starting point for creating fear has not changed.
This summer, why don’t you experience the world of the top runner in haunted houses?
Hirofumi Gomi: Haunted House Producer
Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1957.
While a student at Rikkyo University, he began performing and working part-time in event management.
In 1992, he produced a haunted house with dancers, “Maro Akoji’s Panorama Haunted House,” which drew an astounding number of visitors.
In 2015, he appeared on “Jounetsu Tairiku” (Continent of Passion). His representative works include “The Black Hair House of Fear,” in which he combs a ghost’s hair and proceeds through it, and “Kazuo Umezu’s Haunted House.” Author of many books.
From the August 19 and 26, 2022 issues of FRIDAY
PHOTO： Shinji Hamasaki